‘Flash’ tells secrets of the carnival | VailDaily.com
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‘Flash’ tells secrets of the carnival

Staff Reports

How many stuffed animals do you have lying around? I’m not talking about the ones that belong to the kids; I mean the ones that are yours. Not many, I’d guess. At least not many you’d admit to owning. You probably think you’ve outgrown your need for a teddy or a stuffed monkey, and any fabric critters you have around are there for sentimentality’s sake.Then why do we envy the guy walking down the midway of the carnival, toting a huge stuffed bear that he won?How many zillions of quarters have you spent trying to win the plush tiger at the local fair? And those guys walking down the midway with the bear and the grin how did they win? Find out in the memoir “Eyeing the Flash: The Education of a Carnival Con Artist” by Peter Fenton (c.2005, Simon and Schuster).Peter Fenton was a shy kid, a little nerdy, and good with numbers. That was before he met Jackie Barron one day after sophomore geometry class. Jackie owned a car and spoke to adults in a way that Peter never could. He was smooth-talking, confident, and he got any girl he wanted. Jackie was a fifteen-year-old con artist.Because of his ease with addition and subtraction, Jackie took Peter under his wing and taught him about marked cards and games of chance. A few months after they met, they were fleecing their classmates in a basement casino, located in Jackie’s house. Not long after that, the two took an elephant and a pony to another state to run a “free circus.” The summer after graduation, Jackie bought a few carnival games, a couple of rides, and a piece of the action, and he hired Peter to work for him.Though Peter was promised one of the better jobs on the midway, he started with the Hanky Pank (Pick-a-Duck and Bust a Balloon). He soon moved up to Alibis (Swinger and Knock Over the Cat) and by summers’ end, Peter was working Flats and making thousands of dollars, scamming people in games they could never win. Then Peter learned that Jackie was scamming him. Is it true that you can’t con a con?For the very reason that carnival games are irresistible, “Eyeing the Flash” is equally hard to put down: there’s always a chance that someone might win and you want to be there to see it happen, even though you know it probably won’t. The behind-the-scenes peeks at a small fly-by-night carnival are fascinating, and, although I don’t think this book was written as a warning, I got the impression that if you gained skepticism about midway games, author Fenton wouldn’t mind. I liked the tone of this book, and I appreciated that Fenton didn’t offer any maudlin apologies for scamming so many people all those summers ago.Step right up, pick a duck, bust the balloon, and read this book. “Eyeing the Flash” is more fun than a stuffed teddy any day. VT


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